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Whittier, Alaska: Most of town's residents live in 1 apartment building

Think you've been isolated? The only road into the town of Whittier, Alaska, is a one-lane tunnel, and most of the town's residents live in a single apartment building.

Only road to town is a 4-km, one-lane tunnel through a mountain

Isolation is a defining characteristic of life in the the North.

For many residents, this means log cabins in the woods, long drives to metropolitan centres, or hiking on the tundra. But it's something entirely different for the 220 residents of Whittier, Alaska. 

Whittier, about 50 kilometres southeast of Anchorage, is connected to Alaska's highway system by a four-kilometre one-lane tunnel through a mountain. The tunnel shuts down at 10 p.m. local and reopens at 7 a.m.

But the residents of Whittier also have a unique living arrangement: almost everyone lives in the same apartment complex. 

The Begich Tower was built by the U.S. Army in 1952 to be used as a barracks during the Cold War. After the army left in 1960, Whittier citizens took over the building's 196 units.

Begich Tower comes complete with a church, post office, police station, and health care clinic. The town's school and general store can be accessed from the building through a tunnel system. This makes it possible for Whittier's citizens to go weeks without setting foot outside.

We all meet at the post office.- June Miller, who runs a bed and breakfast

"We all meet at the post office and we have a great time," said June Miller, who runs a bed and breakfast in the tower.

"If you have a bad day you don't talk to nobody, and run back to your apartment. Or if you are sick or something, you just hold your hand over your mouth and say, 'I don't want to spread this, so I'm leaving.'"

'Can't even stand up the winds are so strong'

It's an odd arrangement, but Whittier's climate would make anyone want to retreat indoors. 

During the winter, more than half of Whittier's 200-person population lives in a 14-storey condominium: Begich Towers Incorporated, a relic of Alaska's Cold War. The building also houses a laundromat, convenience store, health clinic, market, and church. (Jen Kinney)

With an average yearly snowfall of six metres and winds that can gust up to 90 km/h, the townspeople have learned to adapt and make the most of their situation.

"We get a lot of tail ends of typhoons from Japan and Thailand," Miller said. "Sometimes, you can't even stand up the winds are so strong."

Despite the strange living situation and often difficult climate, Miller loves living in Whittier.

She just has one complaint — with the town's transportation system.

"Because we have four elevators, sometimes people pull pranks on you and hit every button," she said. 

"And it's like, 'Really? This again?'"

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